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Restoring the beautiful Victorian walled garden at Croxteth Park

PUBLISHED: 12:05 14 October 2017 | UPDATED: 12:05 14 October 2017

One of the formal beds

One of the formal beds

Linda Viney

Volunteers are restoring a lovely Victorian garden just a short stroll from a busy city centre. Linda Viney reports

Above: Jim Cable (third from the right) with some of his volunteers now working in the walled gardenAbove: Jim Cable (third from the right) with some of his volunteers now working in the walled garden

Within a stone’s throw of Liverpool’s bustling city centre lies Croxteth Park with its beautiful Victorian walled garden which is unusually close to the 16th century Hall, home to the Molyneux family until 1972. The garden is being restored to its former glory thanks to head gardener, Jim Cable. With 20 years practical horticultural experience, he has been in the post for the past year.

‘It is an amazing place steeped in history and the garden’s heyday from 1850 to 1910 was a time when horticultural fashions changed dramatically,’ he said. ‘I aim to celebrate the era of Victorian gardening while ensuring the botanical collections we are still lucky to have remain for future generations.’

Jim was chatting in the entrance to the stunning 150ft Lancashire-style Peach House. I felt in awe as I looked round at the stunning sight of the two acre plot enveloped by the shelter of solid brick walls.

The First World War saw the decline of many of the large gardens as men went off to fight, often never to return. In its heyday there would have been at least 30 gardeners working here and Jim has managed to recruit a band of enthusiastic volunteers working to ensure the future of this garden. They are bolstered by the Croxteth Estate volunteers all of whom are working on the regeneration with enormous pride.

Andrew Dunbar checking the beesAndrew Dunbar checking the bees

During the first stop on my way to the glasshouse I met up Andrew Dunbar as he was checking the bees. I was fascinated, especially when he pointed out the different colours on the backs of the bees which enabled him to see which pollen had collected on them as they gathered nectar. The bees, apart from providing honey, help with pollination which is especially valuable for the fruit trees, many believed to be at least 100 years old.

The ‘Flue Wall’ was where fires were lit in the cavities, the smoke leaving via chimney pots at the top, enabling tender plants and fruit trees to grow protected from early frosts. This method was, however, labour intensive and stopped with the loss of gardeners during the two wars. The Victorians went to extreme lengths to grow their own produce overjoyed to propagate tropical fruits such as melon and pineapple – far removed from today when all we have to do is pop to the supermarket.

The border is now planted with perennials and shrubs. I spotted the glasshouses where I met up with Gerard Weaver who has worked in this area for 27 years, caring for one of the oldest botanical collections housed here. Originally these were heated via a breach from the wall. As we walked around, it was a journey of taste and smell as we paused to see the huge variety of species.

‘I am amazed at the different scent people smell from the same plant – anything from chocolate to vomit!’ he laughed. I was, therefore, slightly wary when he gave me a petal to taste. Thankfully, it was delicately sweet. We walked through curtains of Tillandsia, admired the orchids, mostly collected from the wild and not the usual ones you would find in the garden centres, and Bromeliads. There is also a large collection of coleus now called Solenostemon and pelargoniums, again many scented ones. You could spend all day just in the glasshouses. Alongside is the mushroom house, revolutionary in its time, with a display of the year long cultivation.

William Roscoe, who helped found Liverpool’s first botanic garden, had great standing in Liverpool society, therefore was able to encourage ship’s captains to donate horticultural specimens to the Liverpool Botanic Gardens. As I continued my journey, nestling among the planting was a small glasshouse constructed in 2008 to celebrate Roscoe’s link with the 200 year botanical plant collection. The ginger plant at the side became the height of gardening fashion especially for its culinary and medicinal use.

The main garden is divided into beds with paths leading through, each one with its own planting including a selection of vegetables. There are many heritage varieties, planted by horticultural students from Myrescough College Campus on site to support their learning. There are wild flowers and more formal bedding styles, a cut flower bed and a rose bed where scent fills the air. Pears hang like huge droplets from the magnificent arched walkway leading to the sundial forming one of the axis of the garden. Here the beds are a testament to Gertrude Jekyll with a movement from the formal to more soft naturalistic planting.

The severe spur pruning used for the pear and apple trees shows how the Victorians grew them for their aesthetic beauty as well as fruit. This garden is one of only a few in the country you can still see this type of pruning and the tradition will be kept on.

This walled garden is closer to the house than many which gave it a strong link with the hall. Flowers were grown here to decorate the house and Aintree on race day. The Molyneuxs were keen racegoers, and the more unusual blooms were used for the buttonholes of their guests at the course.

Striking Rudbekia in flowerStriking Rudbekia in flower

Under Jim’s guidance the future of this garden is looking rosy. The importance of keeping the botanic collections here is vital. Visitors have the opportunity to see for themselves the history of a Victorian Walled Garden while enjoying the tranquillity and beauty of this stunning place.

It is certainly a romantic oasis not to be lost. Sitting down with a group of volunteers while they had a lunch break I discovered the pleasure they got from working here as they help preserve this treasure for generations to come.

Anyone wishing to volunteer telephone 0151 448 1581 where you can leave your name and phone number. Jim will be in touch. The 2018 opening times are daily from Saturday 24th March to Sunday 2nd September 10.30am-4.30pm. It is open during the winter by appointment and it opens on August 26 for the National Garden Scheme.

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